Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2012 Issue

Electronics Installer Sentenced in $1 Million Book Theft

Andy Warhol's drawing of Carter Burden.

There are many paths to becoming a book collector, but only a few to collecting at the highest level. One of those is to be born to a wealthy family. Carter Burden was such a man. He was a great-great-great grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad/steamship shipping tycoon. Vanderbilt was one of the wealthiest men in American history, a fortune estimated to be worth something like $150 billion in current dollars. Of course, that has been diluted over the generations, but you can dilute $150 billion many times and still have a lot left over.

Burden was born Shirley Carter Burden, Jr., in Beverley Hills in 1941. The family moved to New York, and when Burden entered politics in the 1960s, he dropped the “Shirley” from his name. One can't help but be reminded of the classic “Don't call me Shirley” line from Airplane. Through much of the 1960s, Burden was known primarily for parties and high living. According to his New York Times obituary, he and his first wife threw “spectacular parties,” with guests including the likes of Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and Robert and Edward Kennedy. Their names constantly showed up in gossip columns. However, by 1966, “they had begun to turn away from frivolity.” In particular, Robert Kennedy had a deep impact. Though born of wealth and privilege, Carter Burden turned to progressive causes, helping those not having the advantages he possessed.

Carter Burden ran for New York City Council in 1969 and won handily. Attempts at other offices were not successful, but he served on the council until 1977, a very popular figure in his upscale Manhattan district. Meanwhile, he developed his business interests. He may have been born to wealth, but that does not mean he did not do well on his own. He at one time owned the Village Voice and after he sold that, founded a conglomeration of many radio stations. His great-great-great grandfather would have been proud. In 1977, five years after his divorce, he remarried Susan Lombaer. They were still married in 1996 when Burden died at the age of 54.

Among Burden's passions were art and books. Burden has been quoted as saying, “You can never be too thin, too rich, or have too many books.” His art collection included names like Picasso and Matisse; his books names such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner. According to the Times, the collection “he assembled in the last 17 years was regarded as one of the finest in the world.” When he died, many of his books were given to the Morgan Library, reportedly 30,000 books and other papers worth as much as $10 million. Others remained in the large Fifth Avenue home of his widow, lining her bookshelves. That is where they were in 2009 when Timothy Smith, an electronics installer, began to work in her home.

At some point, Mr. Smith decided to do more than just install electronics in Mrs. Burden's house. He also thought it would be nice if he helped clear out some of the clutter on the bookshelves. At first Smith claimed Mrs. Burden had given him permission to clear some of the books left to “rot” in the basement. Supposedly, she thought it was all junk, even though they included a signed F. Scott Fitzgerald said to be worth $500,000. Later, he adjusted his story to say the maid had given him permission to cart the stuff away. That's more authority than the typical maid has, but Mr. Smith was grasping for an explanation other than the obvious one. Finally, facing the possibility of up to 25 years in a house even bigger than that of Mrs. Burden, Smith decided it would be wise to cop a plea. On February 16 last, he returned to court to hear his sentence.

The plea was a good choice. Judge Charles Solomon sentenced him to 1-3 years in prison, which is quite a bit less than 25. Still, Mr. Smith could not leave well enough alone. At sentencing, despite his plea, Smith once again maintained that he took the books in good faith, that he believed he had permission. Pressed by the Judge whether he was denying the truth of his guilty plea, he said that he took them in the presence of someone who gave him permission, evidently that poor maid. Smith was treading on thin ice here. Deny the truth of your guilty plea and the Judge can throw it out, send you to trial, and in this defendant's case, put him back at risk of a 25-year sentence. Fortunately for Mr. Smith, there are too many cases on the docket in New York and the courts have to dispose of them as expeditiously as possible. The Judge cut him off, pronounced sentence, and sent Mr. Smith on his way.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Jeschke Jadi
    Auction 151
    Saturday, April 27, 2024
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 546. Christoph Jacob Trew. Plantae selectae, 1750-1773.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 70. Thomas Murner. Die Narren beschwerung. 1558.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 621. Michael Bernhard Valentini. Museum Museorum, 1714.
    Jeschke Jadi
    Auction 151
    Saturday, April 27, 2024
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 545. Sander Reichenbachia. Orchids illustrated and described, 1888-1894.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 1018. Marinetti, Boccioni, Pratella Futurism - Comprehensive collection of 35 Futurist manifestos, some of them exceptionally rare. 1909-1933.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 634. August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof. 3 Original Drawings, around 1740.
    Jeschke Jadi
    Auction 151
    Saturday, April 27, 2024
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 671. Jacob / Picasso. Chronique des Temps, 1956.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 1260. Mary Webb. Sarn. 1948. Lucie Weill Art Deco Binding.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 508. Felix Bonfils. 108 large-format photographs of Syria and Palestine.
    Jeschke Jadi
    Auction 151
    Saturday, April 27, 2024
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 967. Dante Aligheri and Salvador Dali. Divina Commedia, 1963.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 1316. Tolouse-Lautrec. Dessinateur. Duhayon binding, 1948.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 1303. Regards sur Paris. Braque, Picasso, Masson, 1962.
  • Doyle, May 1: Thomas Jefferson expresses fears of "a war of extermination" in Saint-Dominigue. $40,000 to $60,000.
    Doyle, May 1: An exceptional presentation copy of Fitzgerald's last book, in the first issue dust jacket. $25,000 to $35,000.
    Doyle, May 1: The rare first signed edition of Dorian Gray. $15,000 to $25,000.
    Doyle, May 1: The Prayer Book of Jehan Bernachier. $10,000 to $15,000.
    Doyle, May 1: Van Dyck's Icones Principum Virorum Doctorum. $10,000 to $15,000.
    Doyle, May 1: The magnificent Cranach Hamlet in the deluxe binding by Dõrfner. $7,000 to $10,000.
    Doyle, May 1: A remarkable unpublished manuscript of a voyage to South America in 1759-1764. $3,000 to $5,000.
    Doyle, May 1: Bouchette's monumental and rare wall map of Lower Canada. $12,000 to $18,000.
    Doyle, May 1: An rare original 1837 abolitionist woodblock. $8,000 to $12,000.
    Doyle, May 1: An important manuscript breviary in Middle Dutch. $15,000 to $25,000.
    Doyle, May 1: An extraordinary Old Testament manuscript, circa 1250. $20,000 to $30,000.
  • Fonsie Mealy’s
    Rare Book & Collectors Sale
    24th April 2024
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: McCarthy (Cormac). Cities of the Plain, N.Y., 1998, First Edn., signed on hf. title; together with Uncorrected Proof and Uncorrected Advance Reading Copies, both signed by the Author. €800 to €1,000.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Stanihurst (Richard). De Rebus in Hibernia Gestis, Libri Quattuor, sm. 4to Antwerp (Christi. Plantium) 1584. First Edn. €525 to €750.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Fleischer (Nat.) Jack Dempsey The Idol of Fistiana, An Intimate Narrative, N.Y., 1929, First Edn. Signed on f.e.p. by Rocky Marciano. €400 to €600.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Rare Book & Collectors Sale
    24th April 2024
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Smith - Classical Atlas, Lond., 1820. Bound with, Smiths New General Atlas .. Principal Empires, Kingdoms, & States throughout the World, Lond. 1822. €350 to €500.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Rare Auction Catalogues – 1856: Bindon Blood, of Ennis, Co. Clare: Sotheby & Wilkinson. €320 to €450.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: [Mavor (Wm.)] A General Collection of Voyages and Travels from the Discovery of America to the Commencement of the Nineteenth Century, 28 vols. (complete) Lond., 1810. €300 to €400.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Rare Book & Collectors Sale
    24th April 2024
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Mc Carthy (Cormac). Outer Dark, N.Y. (Random House)1968, Signed by Mc Carthy. €250 to €300.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Three signed works by Ted Huges - Wodwo, 1967; Crow from the Life and Songs of the Crow, 1970; and Tales from Ovid, 1997. €200 to €300.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: The Garden. An Illustrated Weekly Journal of Horticulture in all its Branches, 7 vols. lg. 4to Lond. 1877-1880. With 127 colored plates. €200 to €300.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Rare Book & Collectors Sale
    24th April 2024
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Procter (Richard A.) Saturn and its System: Containing Discussions of The Motion (Real and Apparent)…, Lond. 1865. First Edn. €160 to €220.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: [Ashe] St. George, Lord Bishop of Clogher, A Sermon Preached to the Protestants of Ireland, now in London,... Oct. 23, 1712, London 1712. Second Edn. €130 to €180.
  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Leland Little, Apr. 26: First Edition of Piccolomini's De La Sfera del Mondo (The Sphere of the World), 1540.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: First Edition of Vellutello's Commentary on Petrarch, With Map, 1525.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: Finely Bound Definitive, Illustrated Edition of I Promessi Sposi, 1840.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: Rare First Edition of John Milton's Latin Correspondence, 1674.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: Giolito's Edition of Boccaccio's The Decamerone, with Bedford Binding, 1542.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: First Edition of the First Biography of Marie of the Incarnation, with Rare Portrait, 1677.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: First Aldine Edition of Volume One of Cicero's Orationes, 1540.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: First Edition of Bonanni's Illustrated Costume Catalogue, with Complete Plates, 1711.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: An Important Incunable, the First Italian Edition of Josephus's De Bello Judaico, 1480.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: First Edition of Jacques Philippe d'Orville's Illustrated Book of the Ruins of Sicily, 1764.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: An Incunable from 1487, The Contemplative Life, with Early Manuscript.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: Ignatius of Loyola's Exercitia Spiritualia, 1563.

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